Alzheimer’s disease really can be avoided by following a healthy lifestyle – even if you’re predisposed to get it, the largest study of its kind has revealed.
Exercising, monitoring blood pressure and watching less TV are the three key factors that will help build brain resilience and keep the disease at bay.
Researchers at the University of California in Irvine began the ’90+ Study’ in 2003. Tests were carried out on the 1,700 participants every six months to monitor their cognitive ability. Post-mortems were conducted upon their death.
Astonishingly half of the dementia-free patients had the hallmark brain plaques – which lead to memory loss and dementia – when they died.
Meanwhile half of the dementia patients did develop symptoms of memory loss – even without having these build-ups in their brain.
Professor Claudia Kawas, lead researcher, suggested the reason for such ‘cognitive resilience’ in those who should have developed dementia but remained free of it was down to a healthy lifestyle.
This group of resilient participants, for example, exercised more and watched less TV, she told delegates at the World Congress for Neurology in Kyoto, Japan.
Professor Kawas also noted it was important to keep blood pressure under control.
Professor Kawas estimated that if these interventions were taken by more people there will be two million fewer dementia cases in the US by 2050.
But she was also clear to point out that the findings are not yet decisive, and that the risk factors for the devastating disease need further research.
What do the researchers say?
Professor Kawas said: ‘People should be suitably informed about what they can do to prevent cognitive decline from the standpoint of today’s scientific knowledge.
‘The results of the report do not form a suitable basis for deriving public health strategies to counter the wide-spread disease of dementia.
‘The overarching message we can derive from the findings so far is – keep your body and brain working in order to protect cognition.’
The results shed light on why some people get dementia and others don’t – even if they reach a highly advanced age where the disease is more likely.
It follows Cambridge University research three years ago which found just one hour’s exercise a week cuts the chance of Alzheimer’s by almost half.
And earlier this year a study suggested more than a third of dementia cases could be avoided by exercising more and controlling blood pressure,
The ’90+ Study’ began in 2003. Tests are carried out on the 1,700 participants every six months to monitor their cognitive ability. Post-mortems are conducted upon their death.
Some 40 per cent of the participants had dementia, the study showed, with women being more heavily affected than men.
Those with a higher level of education were found to have greater protection even if OET scans revealed plaque in the brain typical of Alzheimer’s.
People with a low level of education had quadruple the risk of contracting dementia, the researchers said.
But among those without plaque in the brain, the educational difference was irrelevant.
A lack of physical activity
Physical activity – or the lack of – was identified as one of the risk factors that has the greatest effect on dementia.
Therefore, the study showed exercise and watching less TV can play a part in postponing or slowing down age-related cognitive decline.
Keeping blood pressure under control
Getting high blood pressure under control appears to be important for mental health as well – especially between the ages of 35 and 65.
But for those in their nineties, it is believed that high blood pressure could have a protective effect.
Don’t rely on brain training apps
There’s currently no evidence of the efficacy of commercial computer-based brain training exercises.
They appear to have only short-term effects and work in connection with the same tasks that are practiced over and over, Professor Kawas said.
Officials estimate there to be around 47 million dementia sufferers across the world, with nearly 10 million new cases reported each year.
In the US, the devastating disease, which is currently incurable, affects more than five million, while 850,000 suffer in the UK.
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